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Rules could change on the number of times you can call 911 in Va. Beach

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Virginia Beach city leaders are taking action after a News 3 investigation exposed people abusing the 911 system.

In August News 3 uncovered that an elderly couple called the fire department 1,100 times in the last three years in Virginia Beach.

Virginia Beach firefighters call it a growing problem saying too many people call the fire department for non-emergencies.

"It's regrettable that we've gotten to this point, but we do have people that have been abusing the system or perhaps have some businesses that are abusing the system and we got to try to figure out a way to fix it and I believe this is fair," said Mayor Will Sessoms.

The fire department said under the proposed ordinance a person would be allowed to call 911 for a non-emergency six times, but after that it would cost $150 for a home and $250 for a commercial property.

Leaders with the fire department say they've seen a steep rise in the number of assisted living facilities also abusing the 911 system. They said too many people are calling for non-emergencies and it could potentially put people having real emergencies in danger.

In August, Shirley Niemiec said she calls the fire department on a daily basis.

Her husband needed help getting in and out of bed twice a day.

With more and more baby boomers aging, city leaders say it’s a growing problem.

These calls also impact taxpayers.

The fire department says it’s very difficult to estimate the types of costs associated with non-emergency calls.

The Virginia Beach Firefighter Union president said 1,100 calls for service would equal somewhere between $250,000 to almost half a million dollars.

William Bailey said the impact comes for many different aspects like fuel costs, firefighter salaries and maintenance on the fire trucks.

When you examine the number of miles in this particular case there have been roughly 3,900 miles put on the various fire trucks dispatched to this house. They live about 1.8 miles from Fire Station 19.

When looking at the miles alone, it would be like driving from Virginia to California, to Colorado.

Virginia Beach District Chief Kenneth Pravetz said, “The fire department is funded through taxpayer dollars, so the taxpayers are paying for it.”

He said that when you look at the firefighter salaries and fuel costs alone it adds up to about $65 per call.

Firefighters are paid the same amount of money no matter what types of calls they go on, so including that cost is debatable on whether to include that in the cost estimate.

Being tied up on a non-emergency could be problematic if something were to happen.

"I anticipate the whole council to support it. We have a wonderful fire department, rescue squad, they do a great job and unfortunately we get put in situations where people abuse the use of these departments and we got to deal with it," said Mayor Sessoms.

City Council is expected to vote on the proposed ordinance on February 21.